Breaking News in the Industry: March 9, 2018

Off-duty officer arresting shoplifting suspects shoots at driver who hit him

An off-duty officer in Missouri was arresting two suspected shoplifters when a hidden occupant of their cargo van drove off, hitting the officer, who then shot at the driver, police say.  It was unknown if the officer’s gunfire hit the driver, according to St. Louis County Police. The van was found abandoned about 9 miles away in St. Louis shortly after the incident.  The officer was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries including cuts to his hand and a “lower body injury” from when he was hit by the van, Sgt. Shawn McGuire said in a news release late Wednesday. The officer, a 20-year veteran with the department, remained at the hospital Wednesday night.  The officer, who was off-duty and not in uniform, had been shopping about 6:15 p.m. at a Costco at 4200 Rusty Road when store employees alerted him to two suspects stealing merchandise, McGuire said.  The store is in a South County shopping plaza near Interstate 55 and Interstate 255. The officer then walked out into the parking lot and got into a marked St. Louis County Police patrol vehicle, McGuire said.

He saw the two suspects enter a panel van and drive away. The officers pulled the van over less than a mile from the store, at a dead end in the 11100 block of Lindbergh Business Court, McGuire said.  Once the van stopped, the driver immediately got out and tried to run away but was apprehended, McGuire said. A second person got out but did not attempt to flee and was taken into custody.  As the officer arrested the two, an unknown third person who was inside the van drove off, hitting the officer, McGuire said. The officer then shot at the driver.  “While fleeing from the scene, the van struck the officer,” McGuire said. “In fear of his life or serious physical injury, the officer discharged his duty weapon at the driver of the vehicle. At this point in the investigation, it is unknown if the driver of the van was struck.”  Police believe that at least one other person was also in the van when it fled. Officers found the van just after the incident in the 4500 block of Pennsylvania Avenue in St. Louis, near I-55, McGuire said. It was unoccupied. McGuire did not release other details.  Authorities ask anyone with information about the incident to call the St. Louis County Police at 636-529-8210 or CrimeStoppers at 1-866-371-8477. [Source: St Louis Post-Dispatch]

Employee admits to stealing $41,000 worth of lottery tickets

An employee of an Abilene, Texas, convenience store was arrested after admitting to stealing more than $41,000 worth of lottery tickets. Kinsley Whitehead, 32, was arrested at her place of employment, West-T-Go on the 5000 block of Hwy 277, Wednesday and charged with Theft and Possession of a Controlled Substance. Whitehead’s arrest report states she “did commit the theft of lottery tickets” over a period of time beginning on December 12. The stolen tickets are worth a total of $41,675.  A small amount of methamphetamine was also found when Whitehead gave officers permission to search her purse for the stolen tickets, according to the report.  The victim was able to provide video documentation as well as serial numbers as evidence.  [Source: Big Country News]

Woman arrested in connection to theft ring

Authorities in Northampton County have arrested a Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, woman for her role five years ago in a retail theft scheme that netted more than $57,000 in stolen merchandise over a three-month span. Bethlehem Township police charged Jatmarie Merced with felony counts of conspiracy and theft in connection to the alleged plot to steal electronics from the Walmart at 3926 Route 191 from November 2012 through February 2013. District Judge Robert Hawke arraigned the 36-year-old Monday night, setting bail at $50,000. Investigators filed charges against Merced in April 2013, and it’s not clear from court records why it took authorities nearly five years to arrest her. Store security contacted the Bethlehem Township Police Department in February 2013, after the loss prevention manager reviewed video surveillance footage and discovered that several people had been stealing from the store. One of those accused of theft was Merced. During an interview with a police investigator, a Walmart employee reportedly admitted to stealing merchandise and told authorities that he had seen others, including Merced, do the same, according to court records. He told police that Merced would under ring merchandise by conducting price checks on televisions and other electronics, but not make the person pay for the merchandise, according to records.

Police said six people were involved in the theft ring and stole items such as iPads, televisions, iPods, laptops, headphones, video games, DVDs, cell phones notebooks and PS3, Wii and Xbox gaming systems. Investigators said Merced was assigned to the electronics department during the time of the thefts and would allegedly pretend to ring up merchandise. The criminal complaint against Merced lists her alleged co-conspirators, but court records list charges only against a David Burgos. Burgos pleaded guilty in November 2013 to a single felony count of organized retail theft. He was sentenced to 15 to 31 months in prison, up to three years probation and ordered to pay restitution. Court records indicate the now 36-year-old was paroled in August 2014. Court records indicate that the group stole $57,288 worth of merchandise, $7,240 of which was attributed to Merced. Police charged Merced, of Amplex Street in Bethlehem, with retail theft, theft by deception, organized retail theft, conspiracy and receiving stolen property. She failed to post bail and was sent to Northampton County Prison to await a preliminary hearing scheduled for March 20.  [Source: WFMZ69 News]

Man accused in Fitbit fraud scheme had 193 IDs on his computer

A Worcester resident has been indicted on federal charges in connection with an alleged scheme to made fraudulent credit card purchases and pick up the illicit packages using fake identifications. Yaw Okyere, a Ghanian national who told investigators he had overstayed his visa, was charged with aggravated identity theft and unlawful possession of five or more identification documents. His indictment comes months after an alleged accomplice in the scheme, Roukayatou Damerogo, pleaded guilty to identity fraud and began cooperating with federal authorities. She was arrested in September after being caught picking up a box of Fitbit watches allegedly purchased using a Brewster man’s stolen credit card information. After her arrest, Damerogo told federal investigators she had done at least six similar jobs for a man she knew only as Nana Yao — a pseudonym federal authorities linked to Okyere during their investigation. According to an affidavit filed by Postal Inspector Emily S. Burke, Okyere would provide fake identifications to Damerogo. In the Brewster case, a fraudulent “mail hold” was placed for victim’s address with the U.S. Postal Service, causing postal workers to hold all packages in the post office. Damerogo then picked up the illicit box of Fitbits using a fake ID. [Source: MASSlive]

Testimony concludes in police pursuit, crash trial

Jurors are expected to begin their deliberations after two days of testimony in the case against a Kalamazoo man charged after a police pursuit and crash. Rayjahn Heltzel, 20, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of seven charges, including fleeing from police, failure to stop after a serious accident, assault with a dangerous weapon, resisting police, retail fraud and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Heltzel was arrested after Calhoun County Sheriff Department deputies said he and another man stole liquor at Meijer Inc., 6405 B Drive North, and then Heltzel nearly struck two detectives with the minivan he was driving as he fled the parking lot. Then, police said, he failed to stop at the intersection of M-66 and Beckley Road and caused a four-vehicle crash which seriously injured one of the other drivers, Kristin McIntosh, 46, of Pennfield Township. Police officers from several departments testified Wednesday about a credit card fraud investigation they were conducting along the Beckley Road business corridor when loss prevention associates at Meijer alerted them to the theft by two men of bottles of liquor.

Both Detective Sgt. Steven Hinkley of the sheriff department and Detective Seth Graves of the Emmett Township police testified Wednesday they attempted to stop the men from leaving the parking lot in a white minivan. They said they were nearly struck as the vehicle fled. On Thursday, Sgt. Katrina Herrington of the sheriff department said she was one of the uniformed officers working on the fraud investigation and she and two other deputies began a pursuit of the minivan from the parking lot to Beckley Road and then westbound until the crash at M-66. She said she slowed her patrol car as they neared M-66 but that despite a red light the white minivan seemed to accelerate until the crash. Police said Heltzel fled on foot and dropped a handgun in the grass at the northwest corner of the intersection. He was arrested by Emmett Township and Battle Creek officers after they found him hiding in some bushes. Herrington was the last prosecution witness called by Assistant Prosecutor Tamara Towns and defense attorney Susan Mlandenoff said she was unsure if Heltzel will testify on Thursday before final arguments by the lawyers, legal instructions by Circuit Judge Sarah Lincoln and jury deliberations begin. [Source: Battle Creek Inquirer]

Retailer expands smartphone checkout

Walmart will allow customers to checkout with a smartphone in its Neighborhood Market store in Winter Springs, Florida, the company announced Monday. Walmart debuted the technology at its Supercenter store in Lake Nona in 2017. Customers are prompted to download an app for their smartphone, then can scan items as they shop with the camera. If a credit or debit card number is loaded, customers can walk out without visiting a cashier. A Walmart employee on the way out will check a receipt on the phone to make sure the items have been purchased. There are also handheld scanners customers can use. “We know time is the new form of currency for our customers, so we’ve continued to introduce new ways to make today’s shopping experience as quick and convenient as possible – whether in store or online,” said a statement from New Smyrna Beach store manager Robert Morris. “For customers who have already used the service, we’re hearing that this is a game changer. It really puts our customers in the driver’s seat of their own shopping experience.” The technology is part of Walmart’s efforts to make shopping more convenient as the Bentonville-based retailer faces pressure from Amazon’s growing online delivery empire. Walmart has also introduced grocery pickup at many stores and has tried to streamline the in-store pickup process for online orders. The Winter Springs store is part of the second wave of Walmarts getting the technology, which will include 100 locations including spots in Titusville and New Smyrna Beach. [Source: Orlando Sentinel]

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